Letting Go
By: Dawn DeBraal

Ma was in the basement. All night long, she howled a sad cry of hunger. We couldn't let her go. She would hurt others. It had been a week. My little sister Greta begged for us to let her go. We couldn't stand the noise any more. She was drawing attention to our house. We were off the beaten path, and they were out there, running in packs. Pa told Greta to turn the radio up a little louder. We hadn't had television for over a month, but somehow a radio station still played music and told stories.

At night we gathered around it using our imaginations to play out the stories they told. We made our home–grown popcorn. It was dry; there was no butter any more. We were all hungry. Pa went out hunting during the day when it was safer, but the wildlife was getting scarce near our house. They were eating them too. Pa talked about moving us somewhere else. Greta cried, she wanted Ma to come with, but Pa said that wasn't possible.

"But what will happen to her?" Greta cried. I chimed in agreement. We couldn't walk away from our house, leaving Ma locked in the basement. What kind of family would we be? Pa said he'd have to think about that.

All the canning Ma did over the years is what kept us alive. After the garden had been picked over, and we started on the root cellar outback. Buried in the knoll behind the house was our larder of peaches, beets, beans, carrots, venison, jellies, and whatever Ma canned. She was prepared for Rapture. Pa used to tease her back when she was upstairs with us, that she had enough food to feed an army. Ma told him, "One day, Vinnie, you will be so happy that I did this." Every spring, she would rotate the jars. In the winter, we ate the oldest of her sealed love offerings. In the summer, she replenished what we had eaten. Ma was a good provider. We still had plenty of food left. Pa said we weren't going to talk about leaving until we were out.

Ma screamed all night. Pa said it kept the others like her away. When they heard her screams, they knew there was no food in this house for them, so they would keep on walking. She was like a guard dog for us.

Winter made us feel more isolated. The radio continued to play music. It must have been on an autoloop of some sort because it was the top twenty–five songs. No one spoke any more in between the music, and the same twenty–five songs played in the same order. Pa wouldn't let us listen, but once a day to those twenty–five songs, the batteries would run out of the radio, and then he said we'd be up "Shit Creek without a paddle." He joked. That made Greta laugh that Pa swore out loud. It was sad that Ma was so hungry, but there was nothing to feed her. I always felt that it was cruel to keep her down in the basement with nothing to eat or drink. It had been months since anyone went down there. Pa had even screwed the door shut, in case she got stronger, or one of us weakened to check on her. She didn't sound like our Ma any more, so I wasn't tempted to check. At night we could hear the moans of the Zombies as they ambled along the road out in front of our house looking for anything, anyone to eat. We hunkered down, looking through small slits in the wood Pa screwed onto the windows. You just couldn't be too careful these days. The old cistern pump replenished our water. Pa was glad he hadn't taken that out. It still had a place in the summer kitchen attached to the house. At first, we tried not to drink the water. We didn't know how you got the virus. Was it in the water?

Greta and I got off the school bus, and there was Ma. She had the shotgun we usually used to keep skunks out of the garbage. There was a heap of rags and a rotten corpse lying on the ground. Her face was torn open. Ma probably gave it every chance to leave. She never liked using that gun. In the end, she must have allowed it to get too close to her. After it bit her, she shot it.

"Girls get me to the basement. It's not safe much longer to be around me. I want you to prop the chair under the handle as we showed you. When your Daddy gets in from the field, you tell him I was bit, that I told you to lock me in the basement. Have him screw the door shut. I don't want to hurt anybody."

Greta and I helped mother get to the basement. I ran back and grabbed the quilt off the bed, something soft for Ma to lie on. We propped the chair under the handle and waited for Pa. When he came into the house, he called for Ma. I told him what happened. He had already seen the corpse on the ground. It had been damaged so badly it couldn't move. He sighed in relief when he saw Greta and me.

"Hildy, whatever you do, don't take the chair away. I'm going to get some screws from the garage." I waited dutifully until Pa got back and screwed that door tight. Daylight faded, and Ma woke up in the basement. She started to slam at the door. I was so glad Pa had reinforced it with the screws. The chair rattled. He had also screwed that to the floor. Pa pulled us close and told us we were safe, that Ma was gone, and what was in the basement was no longer our mother.

The first night was the longest and the hardest. After a few days, we were so exhausted we could sleep through the noise and the banging. The screws and the chair held her downstairs.

In the spring, Pa called us girls into the living room. He told us we were fast running out of food, and we would have to go somewhere, find a different place to live. Greta cried.

"What about Ma?" she asked. Pa said again that he'd have to think about it. On the day Pa picked to leave we had the old wagon we put some clothes, bedding food and water. Pa figures we should move south, where it never snows. Perhaps, we could find a new place there. He didn't make it pretty. He told us our lives were in danger and that we had to be on the lookout. He loaded every gun we had in the house. Those would ride just under the blanket in the wagon. He felt we should leave under cover of darkness.

He pulled the wagon outside. We were just going to leave when they came. Three of those undead. They saw us and let out a whoop. Pa made us go inside quickly. They were all over banging on the house, trying to find a way in. Ma heard them in the basement. She started screaming too. Pa called out, telling us to get in the closet. It was the only room without a window. I could hear Pa with the cordless drill, what was he doing? Then I realized he was loosening the chair. Ma was slamming up against the door; she wanted out. The undead were behind the house now, not finding a way in.

He unscrewed the last screw, threw open the front door, and climbed into the closet with Greta and me. Pa whispered for us to keep quiet. Greta and I were church mice.

The groaning ones came through the front door just as Ma realized the basement door wasn't locked any more. We heard the basement door fly open and the most horrible of noises. For months Ma hadn't eaten a thing. We heard her go through those three undead like they were a bag of Halloween candy. Pa grabbed our hands; we escaped out the back door. He ran around and grabbed our wagon. Ma was like a rabid dog eating chunks of flesh off those travellers. She was drenched in rotten meat. We snuck out of the yard and headed south, keeping close to the trees to stay out of the light of the full moon. When we got a distance from the house, we could see Ma running down the road in the opposite directions howling, excited for the hunt. She was running without abandon. My heart soared to see her run free.

THE END

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